Reinventing Hazard a must as we move forward
by ailey Richards
Braddock, Pennsylvania is in many ways like all industrial era towns, giving it a certain unique similarity to Hazard. They have seen both the tremendous and immediate growth afforded to a region by jobs and natural resources. Sadly, this means that they both have seen the decline in industry and how this can affect what was once a thriving population.
Braddock was a steel town with a population of a round 20,000 during its heyday. Today it has only 2,500 residents. Hazard has not seen this drastic a fall, but that could be a result of only having 8,000 people living here in its heyday, but it also could be because Braddock had its heyday earlier and has been experiencing this loss for several decades longer.
Also like Braddock, Hazard still has its industry — coal. Despite the decline in both the need of coal through more efficient electricity and more efficient technology over the past five decades, coal has still remained a large industry in the area and will always be a necessary resource. Like Hazard, Braddock still has its steel mill, but its work force has shrunk from 5,000 to 560.
This may sound like a negative column, one chronicling the decline of the need of the blue collar in America, but it isn’t. We in Hazard are nowhere near as bad off as Braddock. They had developed a serious gang and violence problem along with drugs, abuse, and under education. But they are fighting back, and so far, winning.
In 2001, an out-of-town man with a master’s degree from Harvard and no job came to Braddock as a part of an AmeriCorps program. He saw the town for its potential and made it his home. John Fetterman ran for mayor in 2005 and won by only one vote.
Since then he has helped to bring in artists, businesses, service projects, playgrounds and a community center. He was able to do this by focusing on the youth and the young artist culture since. “Typically artists will see value in something that others haven’t, and that is the essence of the Braddock Argument,” Fetterman said in an interview with Morgan Spurlock for his a Day in the Life series.
Hazard has every opportunity in the world open to it, it just needs its Fetterman. It needs a set of fresh eyes to see what the town can be.
Underneath the chipping paint, poorly done renovations, and crumbling facades of Main Street in Braddock are some nearly hundred-year-old buildings crafted by the hands of artisans. As one Braddock resident stated in the same documentary series, “That is what made this place originally, it was the craftsmen the brick layers the steal workers and now we have got the artists.”
Maybe for Hazard the answer won’t be artists, but will be adventurers or vacationers. But no matter who it is, it has to start with the youth. They are the mobile, passionate, untapped masses that like all generations before them are looking for a cause to support.
It is doubtful that Braddock will ever become the town it once was. It will probably never have 20,000 residents or thousands of industrial jobs, but with the hard work of people like Fetterman to reinvent the community through its youth, maybe it can create a new identity.
In the same way it is doubtful that Hazard will ever be pulling as much coal from its mountains as it once was, but maybe someday someone will ski them, or farm them, hike them, or climb them.
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